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Updated: October 26, 2006


Juliette Rizzo: Ms. Wheelchair America 2005

Find your courage,
Share your vision, and 
Change the world

Juliette Rizzo: Ms. Wheelchair America 2005
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Biography: Juliette Rizzo

From covering and coordinating national news stories as a journalist to being selected by an organizing committee of the Atlanta Olympic Games to carry the Olympic torch through downtown Dallas, Juliette Rizzo has proven that personal dreams and goals are within reach for people with disabilities when the appropriate supports are in place. Juliette empowers Americans by sharing her experiences and adventures with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and fibromyalgia through an empowering platform, "Power through Participation: Illuminating Opportunities for People with Disabilities." She believes participation is more than having a physical presence in your community. It is about finding your identity through your involvement in and personal contribution to community life.


She enlists people by sharing personal and professional examples of participating in her own life and encourages others to find their courage, share their vision and help her change the world!

With a strong background in media outreach, accessible events planning and strategic communication targeted at raising awareness of issues of importance to persons with disabilities, Juliette has worn many hats and promotes a continuous dialogue speaking throughout the nation with diverse audiences from 10 people to 20,000, including people with disabilities, families, policymakers, corporations, teachers, advocates, service professionals and the media.


She appeared on “The CBS Early Show” in New York as the national spokeswoman for National Women’s Health Week, a first for a woman with a disability, as the first model in a power wheelchair in the American Heart Association’s national Heart Truth campaign in Wisconsin, on “The Today Show” with Al Roker raising awareness of scleroderma, helped the U.S. Surgeon General roll out the first Call to Action for Improving the Health and Wellness of People with Disabilities in America, delivered remarks at American Airlines Corporate Headquarters, co-hosted an international Fourth of July broadcast to the troops in Iraq and appeared at the Rose Bowl and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades as Ms. Wheelchair America 2005. She has met and brought her message to celebrities and opinion leaders alike, including Rudy Guilliani, Condoleeza Rice, Senators John Kerry and Max Cleland, Don King, Bob Eubanks, Maya Angelou, Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap, Lynn Swann, Denise Austin, etc. Using her greatest gift, namely the ability to tell her story of true physical and emotional recovery with strength, courage and hope, she shares her story regularly speaking throughout the United States.

While employed as a public relations director in Texas, Juliette was recognized with a "Best of Texas" award from the Texas Public Relations Association for her contributions to a comprehensive marketing toolkit to increase patient education and awareness of orthopedic surgical procedures. Her work also received local and international recognition.


Juliette also served as Coordinator of Disability Support Services at Texas Woman's University, during which time she managed a large caseload of students with disabilities and was recognized by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) for her development of materials and events promoting academic support services for students with disabilities in higher education. In this capacity, she also served as a press representative during the Paralympic Games.

In 1999, Juliette was asked by renowned disability leader and then Assistant Secretary Judith E. Heumann (also co-founder of the Independent Living movement for people with disabilities) to relocate to Washington, D.C. as Director of Communications and Media Support Services in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education and press secretary to Ms. Heumann. In this capacity, she also served the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Commission, the Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs, and developed unique expertise in the workings of the national disability and mainstream press as they cover issues critical to persons with disabilities. She responded to thousands of media requests from major newspapers and magazines around the United States, coordinated productions with numerous media outlets, such as “60 Minutes” and National Public Radio, and even met Ted Koppel, while attending a live filming of ABC's “Nightline Viewpoint.” In addition, she also has coordinated national outreach and media efforts with the Department of Education and other federal agencies, the White House and Congress to celebrate key anniversaries of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other national disability awareness months and events.


She also served as Communications Director to Assistant Secretary Robert H. Pasternack and was instrumental in placing messages in Time and People magazines and helping to coordinate a cover for Exceptional Parent magazine. In this capacity, she assisted with the development of a national disability-specific media and outreach list for the White House under President George W. Bush's New Freedom Initiative for persons with disabilities.


Juliette currently is Director of Exhibits and Events Planning in the Department of Education, raising awareness of educational opportunities for all Americans. She appeared on "Education News Parents Can Use: Keeping Kids Healthy, Physically Fit and Learning Throughout the Year" broadcast on The Learning Channel and the Public Broadcasting Service. Collaborating with other federal agencies to ensure people with disabilities are informed about initiatives important to them, Juliette recently provided input to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Individuals with Disabilities and is currently working on disability-related national outreach projects and initiatives with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Juliette holds a Master of Journalism degree, focusing on public relations with a unique minor in rehabilitation studies from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. Juliette has received employment specialist training and has served as a peer counselor, mentoring and assisting young adults with employment strategies, transition issues and self-advocacy techniques. As a freelance journalist, Juliette covered Healthcare Reform under the Clinton Administration and was published in Allied Healthweek, Nurseweek and Occupational ADVANCE magazines.


Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Juliette served as a long-time officer of the
Texas Association of Mayor's and County Committees (TAMCC) for People with
Disabilities and is the previous President of the Ms. Wheelchair Texas Achievement Program. She also is a 1997 graduate of Texas Partners in Policymaking, a competency-based national leadership and training program for adults with developmental disabilities.

She is a previous board member of the Arthritis Foundation Metropolitan Washington Chapter, is newly reappointed to the Governor's Commission on People with Disabilities in the state of Maryland and also served as an appointed Commissioner on the Montgomery County Maryland Commission of People with Disabilities. Juliette also is a member of the National Association of Government Communicator's, the Federal Communicator's Network, the Women's Committee of the National Symphony Orchestra and has been recognized by the Tau Kappa Alpha National Honor Society in Journalism.


She served as the first runner up to Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2003, was Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2004 and has been featured in publications and on radio and television around the world, including The Maurice Boland Show on Radio Europe, a recent feature story on assistive technology in The Washington Post and one in the Washington Post Magazine, the cover of American Rehabilitation Magazine's "High Quality Employment" edition and Vegetarian Times, Woman's World, Arthritis Today, Exceptional Parent, the North Texan, FM Aware and On Purpose Woman magazines. She also appeared as the first person with a disability on the Discovery Health Channel's mainstream "National Body Challenge" series and related news break commercials advocating the benefits of physical fitness, nutrition and diet for America's 54 million people with disabilities. Juliette regularly participates in aquatics exercise and also sails with Chesapeake Regional Accessible Boating (C.R.A.B.) and Shake-A-Leg Miami, promoting the benefits of accessible boating. She previously skippered a Colgate 26 sailboat with a two-man crew and has been featured in the sailing industry's Spin Sheet magazine.


As her most exciting accomplishment, Juliette received the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport. She also was nominated as one of the nation’s 20 outstanding young Americans and was just inducted into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Association for Persons with Disabilities as a lifetime member. She was recently appointed as The National Arthritis Foundation’s National Public Relations Chair for Arthritis Walks all across the nation and just spoke at the National Press Club as a spokesperson for the launch of the new American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation. Amidst the stories of great disability leaders, Juliette’s passionate message can be found in the recently published “Enabled in Words: The Real Lives, Real Victories of People with Disabilities.”

In her spare time, Juliette reaches back to the community and helps to fulfill the dreams of young adults with chronic and disabling conditions.

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To invite Juliette Rizzo to an event or to speak to your group or organization, please contact the State Coordinator Robert Watson or send a request via Judy's site.




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